Noise shakes up homes on Terra Firma Rumbling a nuisance on Baltimore street


Janie Sanders, 77, moved her bedroom to the back of her house, putting distance between her and the noise. Carol Lewis has called a halt to her famous backyard barbecues. The glass panel in Rosa McCoy's china cabinet has slipped out of place.

In Cherry Hill, a South Baltimore neighborhood, the houses along Terra Firma Road are shaking -- literally.

And the tremors are the least of the trouble. The loud, ground-moving rumble from the nearby Cherry Hill Shopping Center is keeping residents up nights, and some are trembling with anger.

"It's like living next to a freight train," said Wayne Chambers, who has spent all 51 of his years in the house at 2534. "In two months, I haven't slept through the night once. I can't imagine there's a noisier residential street in all Baltimore."

The culprits, residents agree, are nine industrial-strength air units erected two months ago at the shopping center's southern end, about 50 feet from Janie Sanders' front door. The units provide air conditioning and refrigeration for the centerpiece of a major redevelopment campaign in this southern city neighborhood: a new, 18,000-square-foot Super Pride Market.

The trouble on Terra Firma Road represents one of the first -- and certainly the loudest -- complaints about Catholic Charities, which has been widely praised in Cherry Hill since purchasing the shopping center last year for $1.1 million. The charity has created a nonprofit, Cherry Hill Town Center that is managing the $5.5 million renovation of the complex, long considered an eyesore.

Scheduled to open in October, the new center will include the Super Pride, a food court, specialty shops and the local branch of the Enoch Pratt Library.

"We're happy about the progress at the shopping center, but this noise and shaking is not acceptable," said 6th District Councilman Melvin Stukes, a Cherry Hill resident. "I'm not sure Catholic Charities understands how something like this undermines them."

The shaking is magnified, Stukes says, because in a neighborhood dominated by an enormous public housing project, the 2500 block of Terra Firma Road is a cherished pocket of middle-class homeowners. Those are precisely the kind of customers the new shopping center cannot afford to offend if it is to succeed in achieving Catholic Charities' stated goal for the project -- keeping Cherry Hill residents' money in the neighborhood.

"My neighbors and I have always had cars, so we've never shopped there," said McCoy, who has lived on the block since 1975. "And with this kind of nuisance, I'm not about to start patronizing them now."

McCoy, on leave from her job at the Enterprise Foundation, a Columbia-based charity, has led the fight against the air units. She has written letters, helped force a meeting between Stukes and the center's project manager, and visited other city supermarkets to observe their air units.

"Every market I visited had their units on the roof, away from houses," McCoy said. "But this one is on the ground, as close to us as they could make it."

Fran Minakowski, communications director for Catholic Charities, said this week that the air units had to go on the ground because the shopping center's roof was not strong enough to hold them. Oscar Smith, president of Super Pride Markets, said he has ordered the building of a concrete wall within two weeks to block rTC the noise and vibration.

"I understand their concern, and we don't want to do anything to alienate anyone," said Smith. "And if the wall doesn't solve the problem, we will find another way to solve it."

But residents and Stukes doubt that anything less than a relocation of the units will help.

In the meantime, Mardeen and Haiddie Edmundson are entertaining guests on their back porch rather than in front, where the noise makes it impossible to have a conversation. McCoy recently sent her 10-year-old grandson Karl, who had been having trouble sleeping, away for the summer. Janie Sanders, who has lived on the corner for 50 years, has closed all her windows, even though she has no air conditioning, and the heat makes it hard to sleep.

Across the street, next door to the air units, Carol Lewis' back yard remains empty. "We'll usually spend the whole summer in the yard," she said, pointing to her tree swing and volleyball net. "We'll see about this year."

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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